a-the-ol-o-gy /A-THēˈäləjē/


1) The branch of onticology devoted to the study
of immanence.

2) The diagnosis and critique of illusions of transcendence
in metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and politics.

A-theology is not a belief. It is not the belief that God, gods, and the supernatural do not exist; though it does lead to the conclusion that within the order of being or immanence, there is no God, gods, immaterial forms, or supernatural causation. Rather, a-theology is the science of immanence and the diagnosis and critique of all illusions of transcendence.

As the science of immanence a-theology comprehends being in terms of flat ontology. It seeks to investigate the nature of immanence, how it is organized, and what takes place within immanence. Flat ontology is not the thesis that all beings are equal for certainly some beings enjoy greater power and a broader scope of effects than other beings. Rather, flat ontology is the thesis that there are no beings that 1) stand above and outside of beings such that they condition other beings without themselves being conditioned in any way (transcendence and unilateral causality), and 2) that are there are no beings that are the source and origin of all other beings. Rather, all beings exist on a single plan, the plane of immanence, together.

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As Whitehead observes, the plane of immanence defended by flat ontology is a disjunctive diversity of multiplicities or what onticology calls objects or systems. In formal logic, an inclusive disjunction (P v Q) is true so long as one or both of the atomic propositions (P, Q) that compose it are true. Consequently, if P and Q both exist then the disjunction P v Q will be true. Likewise if P exists and Q does not exist the disjunction P v Q will be true, and if P does not exist and Q does exist, the disjunction P v Q will be true. The only instance where P v Q will be false is where there P and Q both do not exist.

As a disjunctive diversity being allows the independence of the entities or multiplicities that make up the relation. In other words, P can exist without Q, Q can exist without P, and where P and Q do enter into a relation with one another the terms nonetheless remain independent entities in their own right. A disjunctive ontology thus maintains both the singularity and the independence of the beings that populate being in immanence. Put differently, the relations between entities in disjunctive diversity are external. When two multiplicities form an assemblage or enter into an external relation with one another the being of each part remains and a new object or system is sometimes produced. As Whitehead remarks in Process and Reality, the many is increased by one. By this Whitehead observes that the many or disjunctive diversity remains and that the external relation also introduces an additional being into being. The whole, which is an assemblage formed out of these parts, does not totalize the parts an absorb them into a fusional organism, but rather is a part alongside these other parts.

It is for this reason that there can be strife between the parts and the whole of which they are parts. Cells can revolt against the functional role they’ve been alloted in the body generating cancer, and the workers at a factor can go on strike. As a consequence, every object or system harbors entropy within it. And this entropy entails that objects or systems must perpetually labor to maintain their organization lest the relation forged among the parts return to a state of complete independence. However, entropy is not simply a negative dimension of objects or assemblages threatening their continued existence. Rather entropy is that minimal noise within every object or assemblage that allows assemblages to evolve and change becoming other than they now are. In responding to the striking workers the factory becomes something new and other than it was.

This is the opposite of the logic of conjunction found in holisms where all relations between terms are internal. In formal logic a conjunction is only true when both of the multiplicities or atomic propositions that make up the proposition are true. It is only when both P and Q exist that the proposition P & Q will be true. Such is the formula of holism where one claims that all entities are internally related. The claim that all beings are internally related is the claim that P cannot exist apart from Q and that Q cannot exist apart from P. Here being is thought as forming a conjunctive unity rather than a disjunctive diversity. Insofar as holism obeys a conjunctive logic of internal relations it is impossible to see how any change is possible within holistic being for all parts in such wholes are necessarily dependent upon one another and are therefore unable to reconfigure their relations. There is neither movement, change, nor novelty within a conjunctive whole for movement requires the severance and shifting of relations, while change requires that something that is unrelated be capable of influencing an assemblage. Holism thus leads to a frozen, block universe. Moreover, in a holistic universe the whole becomes transcendent to the parts, subordinating each and all of the parts to its functional place within the organism of the whole. As a consequence, there can be no strife between the whole and the parts because the parts are exhausted in beings parts of the whole and therefore introduce no entropy into the whole. Everything has its place and that’s it.

Nonetheless, if the beings that populate the disjunctive diversity of immanent being are multiplicities, then this is because substances, systems, or objects are never simple substances, but are always aggregates, assemblages, or crowds. Every object is already a crowd such that the man’s response to Jesus’s question when he said “I am legion for we are many” holds true of every object. As multiplicities, every object is both a unit and a crowd. Like Cezanne’s paintings where units or substances emerge out of scintillating varieties of light, objects emerge out of other objects. It is for this reason that objects differ in and from themselves for they differ from the objects of which they are composed. And it is for this reason that all objects are doomed to be constitutively incomplete for the objects of which an object is composed continue on their own adventures, tracing their own paths, pursuing their own aims, thereby upsetting the unity and completeness of every object. This constitutive incompleteness of objects is the principle of chaos within each object allowing for new local manifestations to take place.

Many of the beings that populate immanence perpetually fall prey to the illusions of transcendence. Transcendence consists in treating one terms among beings as eminent above all others and as an entity that conditions and originates all other beings without itself being conditioned in its turn. Although theistic conceptions of God are exemplary cases of the illusion of transcendence, they are not the only or even most common cases of this illusion. When we see the law and organization of the state as issuing from a sovereign we have fallen prey to an illusion of immanence. When we see production and labor as issuing from capital rather than capital being a product of labor and production, we have fallen prey to an illusion of transcendence. When we see law as the ground of social order rather than being a reflection of social order, we have fallen prey to an illusion of transcendence.

Everywhere transcendence inverts things, confusing causes and effects, and treating one term as the origin of all others. Wholes do not originate parts but rather arise out of parts, and terms do not stand above other terms, but are terms alongside these terms with no particularly privileged position. The negative task of a-theology thus consists in ferreting out these illusions and showing how the entities described (law, order, wholes, etc.) can be accounted for in terms of immanence and as second-order products of assemblages or objects attempting to navigate and regulate their own internal entropy. A-theology thus rejects all phallocentrism, logocentrism, and patriarchy in the domains of metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and politics.

At the level of ethical and political thought the critique of transcendence becomes particularly important. Because transcendence is an illusion, societies or collectives do not issue from laws and transcendent identities. Rather, collectives or societies are multiplicities of multiplicities, multiples of multiples that only enjoy disjunctive unity. Any unity that a collective enjoys is a part alongside the other parts of which it is composed and the relations among these parts remain external to one another. Consequently, collectives cannot appeal to veiled essences such as “American”, “White”, “Jew”, “Christian”, “Hindu”, “Male”, etc., as a unifying principle embedded in each part, nor can law function as a glue that holds the parts together. The parts retain their independence even while entering into the assemblage of the collective. At best, tribal names are fictional operators that rhetorically strive to act on the parts convincing them that they share the essence of all the other parts. They are themselves operators and parts, rather than ultimate grounds. Consequently, every collective obeys a logic of Cantorian sets rather than Russelian types. There is no grounding and unifying essence among the parts that compose these sets in a collective, only a bricolage of singularities.

This entails that the continued existence of collectives is always problematics for singular multiplicities do not surrender or erase their singularity by virtue of entering a multiplicity, nor do they cease to be what they are. A work is required for the collective to continue. It is for this reason that the concept of pistis is particularly important within the framework of onticological ethics and politics. Like a-theology, pistis it not a belief. Pistis is not a belief in something that is impossible to prove, but rather is a work and a labor. It is the labor of an impossible community described by Jean-Luc Nancy in his meditations on the singular plural and the inoperative community, by Irigaray in her ethics of sexual difference, and by Lacan in the irreducible Twoness of the sexual relation. It is the work of an irreducible demos. Unable to appeal to any transcendent shared identity or essence that would glue the community together by virtue of all members sharing the same essence, unable to appeal to a shared law or set of customs that would link everyone together by the same practices, collectives forged in the full awareness of immanence have only the work of pistis which is the labor of relating the non-related and withdrawn while maintaining disjunctive diversity and refusing a reduction of the other to the same. Such a labor is borne of a love of difference rather than a desire to eradicate difference.

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